With a visa in my passport, some yen in my purse, a small carry-on bag as my luggage and a birthday to be had, I set off on my first Japanese adventure!
Ok, so my trip was solely to Tokyo and only 5 nights long with the first 2 days being a solo adventure to begin with. But yay! Tokyo in winter! (which was surprisingly warmer than Busan).
Getting from the airport to your accommodation is usually the biggest stress, but I made it, having pre-booked everything though (plan-a-lot-Amy). But then there’s still that moment (or many) when you come out of the subway and slowly do a 360 on the spot trying to orientate yourself in a foreign place while your internal GPS keeps saying “Connection lost. Connection lost. Turn back now.” But then you pull out your phone and things make sense. I don’t know how old-school travelers used to manage before Google Maps.
My hostel’s location was great, overlooking the beautiful Ueno Park which includes dams with ducks and also the zoo, and made for an easy landmark for getting back to it. The downside to the hostel was the strict policy for silence within the dorms which seemed to carry up to the common room and kitchen which was filled with people and awkward silence. No chill.
DAY 1 – 21/01: Akihabara Anime District
I guess the advantage of not really knowing too much about a city is being able to be so much more surprised by what you aren’t expecting. I don’t know much about Anime or that Akihabara is like the homeland of it, but I went to explore with an open mind. I first got “lost” in the 9-floors-of-everything electronics store of Yodobashi which proved to be a sensory overload with so much stuff everywhere! I did stumble upon the Wacom tablet section and found a stationery level. I spent a good 6 hours in the area exploring the comic book stores, vintage console shops and the many arcade/ SEGA buildings (I had a go on Mario Karts too), found an artisanal market and tried my first bowl of ramen in Japan – food heaven!
DAY 2 – 22/01: Asakusa and snow
I explored what I’ve decided is one of my favourite areas, Asakusa, an area with what felt like mazes of traditional-feeling street shopping with interesting curios and food. There is also the beautiful Sensoji Temple when you make it out of the maze. I even saw some (very cold looking) people dressed in kimono.I also got to experience Tokyo in sleet and then snow. It’s the most snow I’ve been in before, including walking about 10km over the course of the day in pretty miserable constant windy snow-stormy weather. Despite this unpleasant weather I pushed on and made it to the Ginza area and through more angry weather, later made it to Tsukiji Fish Market (although mostly closed as it’s primarily a morning market and it was well after noon already for me). But I made it, and by the time I finally got back to the hostel all cold and wet, the city was falling deeper into a stormy night white landscape.
DAY 3 – 23/01: Biiiiirthday
I’m officially in my late 20s now! But what a way to turn a year older – welcoming in the new day by sipping on sake with a friend who had just joined me, and then waking up to a magical sunny and glistening Japanese winter wonderland outside. The difference in weather from the day before was amazing!
Besides the rather treacherously icy walkways, it was the perfect setting to visit the white Sinjuku Gyeon National Garden to eat birthday cake while attempting to walk through snowy slosh. I also got to see Tokyo’s snow covered rooftops and parks from the 42nd floor of the Metro Government Building. Our busy day also included visiting the Meiji Shrine, finally going to Harajuku (much anticipated!) and sipping on birthday cocktails in this iconic quirky “kawaii” fashion area before heading to The Robot Restaurant in Shinjuku for a crazy show. This was 90 mins of bright lights, robots, large floats, loud music, people in weird costumes, dancing, singing and corny story lines all within a rather tiny area but totally worth it. A great strange Japanese experience for the books.
DAY 4 – 24/01: Final fun
My last full day in Tokyo was spent at the zoo in the morning (I got to see my first panda! As in a panda, he had no friends) before heading to the Shibuya Crossing to walk across one of the 5 cross paths of the famously busy intersection (to the other side of the road – a bit of an overhype but a must do). We chose to walk from Shibuya to Harajuku which was a great experience that would have been missed had we taken the train. Along the way we found the Disney Store which looked like a castle and further on we found an Alice in Wonderland-themed store hidden through a tiny door into 3 floors of Alice-themed decorations and things. Last stop: Harajuku (for one more time) for more street exploring and shopping. My Harajuku trophy was a “Temaki Cats” shirt with cats in sushi hand rolls on it. I’m chuffed. There was also a large H&M sale on, so that’s one way to use up left over yen notes. Ching ching shop shop.
After my whole [awesome] trip, I unfortunately came back with 0 beer labels for my journal. Not that I didn’t drink any beer, but all the convenience stores seemed to stock (besides seriously impressive pre-made convenience meals) were cans only. No labeled bottles. So I left with just some sake in pretty boxes.